I am a Mask. I am an Aquilla. I am the Blood Shrike. Pain is nothing" Helene Aquilla [A Reaper At The Gates]
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Helene Aquilla is a character in the An Ember In The Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir. At the end of the fourth trial, she became the Blood Shrike to Marcus Farrar and the Empire.


Helene Aquilla is the 20-year-old daughter of Pater Aquilla and best friend of Elias Veturius. She first appears in Blackcliff, watching Barrius being punished for deserting by the Commandant. Although she is the only girl in Blackcliff, she is the third in class. She is chosen, along with Elias Veturius, Marcus Farrar and Zak Farrar to be Aspirants. In the end, she is made Blood Shrike and swears fealty to Marcus Farrar.


Helene is described as having ice-blond hair and sharp blue eyes. She has a slender figure, and while in armor, as described by Elias, looks "like a warrior goddess". She is exceedingly beautiful and stunning - her fierceness makes her even prettier.

An Ember In The Ashes

Helene is first introduced into the story when a deserter is on the loose. She almost finds Elias, preparing to flee from the academy, but decided to drop the issue afterwards.

Helene Aquilla is the only female at the Blackcliff Academy, and that means constantly dealing with lewd remarks from Marcus, (whom she likes to call "the snake"). She's a skilled combatant and has the potential to be amongst the most experienced masks in the whole empire.

Helene is selected as one of the contenders to be the emperor and goes through a series of trials alongside three others; Elias, Marcus, and Zak. During one of those trials, Helene is revealed to be a healer as she heals Laia. Her ability has not been explored much through the entirety of the book.

Helene also shows signs of attraction towards Elias as she gets jealous whenever Elias mentions Laia. She stays away from Elias for the most part of the book because of those feelings. By the end of the book, Helene, due to her loyal heart, is selected as the Blood Shrike who will serve the new Emperor Marcus. Before Elias is executed, the amphitheater at Blackcliff Academy is destroyed by Laia and Cook. Helene later tracks down Elias and Laia as they are fleeing Blackciff to save Laia's brother Darin. Helene tells Elias that she was working with the Augurs to save his life. Elias takes off his mask and gives it to Helene. Helene allows the two to escape the destroyed Blackcliff Academy.

A Torch Against The Night

In the beginning of the book, Helene is being interrogated by Masked Harper for where Elias escaped to at the end of An Ember In The Ashes. Helene says she has no idea where he went but this doesn't work well with Harper. She is eventually let free by her father Pater Aquilla who makes a deal with Emperor Marcus. The deal was to let Helene go and in return, the Aquilla's will support Marcuse's role. This deal allows Helene to continue her role as The Blood Shrike. Helene is ordered by Marcus to hunt Elias down and kill him. She is tasked with Harper and Dex for this mission.

Helene admits loving Elias in the midst of her mission to capture, torture, and execute him. She says, "He's a threat to the Empire. A threat I must deal with. But I love him. How do I kill the man I love?" (67), and she continues to ponder Elias and her duty to execute him, despite her undying love for him.


Helene Aquilla comes from a prestigious family. Her father, Pater Aquilla, is mentioned to be a jurist, while her mother and sisters are intelligent and beautiful. Helene is the only female of her generation to attend, and as of Ember, also to graduate. Helene is third in her class, with Elias and Marcus first and second respectively. It is said that her hardships have made her not weak, but stronger.

Helene first met Elias, her best friend, when they were six in the "culling pen", where new students are picked on and tossed in the rain and mud. I'll watch your back, she had said, quoted by Elias to have "all the gravitas of a Cadet".  As Fivers, Helene and Elias stuck together to survive, solidifying their friendship. At one point, a Barbarian raiding party is said to have captured them, and Helene got her and Elias out safely due to the Barbarians underestimating her strength.

Throughout their years at Blackcliff, Helene is haunted by Marcus's perverse need for her. The Snake, as she dubs him, watches her at every turn, only warded off by Elias. Later, in the Trials, her fear of Marcus is exploited in the First Trial of Courage.


Helene is Greek for "shining light" or "bright one".[1]

It is revealed in Torch that Hannah, her sister, hates Helene with a burning passion



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